Does the Bible Command Christians to Evangelize?

Let me throw a wild-card into this discussion of evangelism.  I’m not really going anywhere specific with this; it was just banging around in my head today (along with lots of thoughts about Tiger Woods and the PGA Championship this week).

In my college and seminary courses on the church, the question of the purpose of the church in the world was always answered with one text–Matthew 28:19-20.  Jesus’ words about making disciples were transformed into a mandate for faithful evangelism on the part of the church.  But that’s not what Jesus says to do.  The church is to make disciples, baptizing and teaching them how to obey Jesus.

Setting aside this text, here’s my question: If you wanted to make a biblical argument that a key task of the church is to evangelize non-Christians, what clear text would you cite for support?  What passage explicitly commands the church to evangelize?


16 responses to “Does the Bible Command Christians to Evangelize?

  • thebareden

    I think answers to this are going to depend on what a person encompasses within the definition and workings of evangelism.

    Off the top of my head, not really thinking of specific verses, but of just the overarching ideas of loving others that make their way through the old and new testaments, I think you could make a case that sharing what you have with God and what God has done across the scope of time in this world and with humanity flows pretty nicely. But this might not have to involve anything that the typical evangelical would call “evangelism.” It certainly wouldn’t require the type of callous interaction that’s already been discussed on this blog about the man in the coffee shop feeling insulted by a rote doom-and-gloom assault.

    So I am comfortable saying there’s a command to love. That command likely includes aspects of a lot of things.

    ::M::

  • Sameer Yadav

    1 Pet. 2:9-12?

  • athanasius96

    Mark 16:15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”

    • Dn4sty

      Anthanasius96,

      I don’t know if you are aware or not, but many people (me included) don’t accept Mark 16.15 as scripture, (Mark’s gospel ends at vs. 8).

      Therefore 16.15 would most likely be excluded

  • Pastor Ryan

    ! Pet. 2:9-12 are quotes from the OT dealing with God’s plan for Israel which certainly hold truths for the church, but I am not sure how directly they apply to preaching the Gospel only. Mark 16:9-20 were most likely not in the original book of Mark, according to my Bible classes. This gets to the core of something I have been struggling with as well. Is there a direct command to go out and evangelize? Is Jesus pleased when popular Christian college organizations interrupt peoples lunch time or study time to “witness” to them? It seems to me the answer is no.

  • S Wu

    I don’t have a good answer, Tim. The word “evangelism” is somewhat confusing. Not a lot of people ask, “Where is that word in the Bible?”; and “In what context?” Matt 28:19-20 speaks of making disciples of all nations. I would have thought that the Sermon on the Mount and other teachings of Jesus about the kingdom of God and discipleship (including denying oneself, etc) in Matthew would be part and parcel of that “great commission”.

    I prefer the language of “proclaiming” Christ, and of course the content of that proclamation is important. Michael Pahl speaks of our call to proclaim and live out the resurrection of the crucified Christ, and that “the church is called to enact God’s program of creation renewal in this age in anticipation of the fulfillment of the renewal of creation in the age to come.” (In Pahl’s book From Resurrection to New Creation (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2010).) I find this useful. It is not only what we say, but how we live, especially in terms of the cruciform love found in the gospel.

    Those are my random thoughts.

  • John Byron

    I think we would have to understand it as in implicit command from the actions of the early church. I think Jesus’ preaching the good news of the kingdom would fall under this as well.

  • Marcus

    Do we need a command? The narratives must be normative for us in some sense. They’re more than just historical data. That doesn’t mean that we can just directly apply them, but they do seem to sanction telling people about Jesus.

  • Brian M

    Sounds like a set-up (along the lines of “what passage explicitly teaches that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man?”). There may not be one (though is Colossians 4:5-6 close…the context is pure proclamation). However, the overall story of Scripture seems clear that mission (including evangelism) is the role of the church. I refer to Christopher J. H. Wright’s The Mission of God or The Mission of God’s People.

    Love the blog.

    ~A GRTS alumus!

  • joey

    It is not our job to grow the Church – though it is :0)
    It is required of a servant that he be FAITHFUL. We are faithful by being the living embodiment of the Story that has been entrusted to us. Period. It is true that along the way we evangelize, help the needy, oppose oppression, and so on. Of course we should do those secondary things! We are the continuation of the Incarnation! How could we not want to do those things?! But they are not what we have been entrusted with – though they are :0)
    We live the Story. Let’s not reduce it.

    • joey

      Further thoughts…
      In light of the context and audience, I think the emphasis of Matt 28 is intended to be on the ALL, not on (our understanding of) evangelism. Matthew’s recording of Jesus’ saying is to say that Jesus is not just a JEWISH Messiah. He’s a Messiah for ALL.
      Then there’s the fact that Paul says that SOME have been given the gift of evangelism; not ALL have the gift. (Eph 4)

  • timgombis

    I’m certainly not arguing against evangelism. It just struck me as ironic that neither Jesus nor the apostles explicitly command the church to do what some people say is the only or main or most important task of the church. Don’t read too much into that; I just found it interesting.

    I must say that I do think it’s unfortunate that, at least among evangelicals, the sense that we’re not evangelizing enough or that we’re not as good at it as we think we should be is probably the single greatest source of guilt for Christians.

    Jesus does give a clear mandate to the church in Matt. 28:19-20, one that reaches back to the mission of Israel: as you are going into the world, make disciples of the nations. This involves two tasks—baptizing and teaching them to live in the way of Jesus. Beyond this, there are no specifics.

    So, how do we think about evangelism? Do we lift techniques right out of Acts and preach the gospel on busy street corners? Should we look to effective modern sales techniques and adopt those strategies?

    I’ll lay out some thoughts tomorrow. Today was spent at the beach!!

  • Elsewhere (08.12.2011) | Near Emmaus

    […] – Tim Gombis discusses the context and method of evangelism. Also, he asks whether or not Scripture commands us to evangelize. […]

  • Allen Browne

    Did anyone hear that the evil’s oppressive rule is over? That there’s a new king who knows how to run the place in peace and harmony? That he even knows how to deal with death? Is there good news?

  • Evan Winterhavik

    Interesting thought, though perhaps reductionistic…what about:

    Jesus identifies God’s overall history ending program in Matt 24:14 as when the announcement of the kingdom has come before all the ethne in the entire world. Then the end comes.

    He introduced Peter to his work as to make him a ‘people fisher’

    And the writer of 2 Peter seemed to think that entire reason that the world had not yet ended was that God was holding back the end in his patience and overriding goal of,” not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

    Again the parables of the lost coin and lost sheep seem to make the case that entrance into the kingdom (evangelism being the means) takes precedence over spiritual growth within the kingdom.

    Perhaps Paul was following the same line of reasoning in his ministry planning mentioned in Romans 15…

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